IT and Foreign Trade Minister Kristjan Järvan (Isamaa) is to ask for cabinet consent to bring legislation to the Riigikogu which would reform the universal electricity service, and be linked to a vote of confidence in the government.
The move follows news that on several days this month, the exchange price of electricity has been lower than the price the universal service guarantees.
The service was rolled out last autumn as a way of dealing with soaring electricity prices, and most domestic consumers were automatically switched to the universal plan, unless they specifically opted out of it.
Järvan told ERR that: "The plan is to bring the universal service 2.0 to the government today, so that the universal service can be made even better, ahead of the elections and before the new composition [of the Riigikogu]."
The cabinet meets regularly on Thursday morning, followed by a press conference.
The Riigikogu only has four full weeks left before it is dissolved, ahead of the March 5 election, meaning processing the bill would need to be expedited ahead of that time - tying the bill vote to a confidence vote in the government in fact achieves this.
A vote of confidence in the coalition, which entered office last July, could also be seen in the context of coalition negotiations which follow elections in Estonia. No party ever obtains an overall majority, and while tripartite coalitions are the norm, these do not last the entire four-year duration of a Riigikogu composition.
At the same time, since the Reform/Isamaa/SDE coalition has only been a fact for six months, the development could herald its continuation after the election, depending on how the parties fare at the polls, or at least hint at what Isamaa's direction might be in terms of negotiations.
Järvan said the reform, should it be accepted by the cabinet and then pass at the Riigikogu, would mean both domestic and business customers could get the cheapest price available at the time – ie. either the exchange price or the universal price – rather than being locked into one or the other.
This would involve an hourly price calculation system which, since electricity sellers also work on an hourly basis, would be amenable to them and would motivate consumers to manage their consumption effectively.
Minister Järvan had already taken the bill to the coalition council, ie. the body representing the three constituent parties; both of Isamaa's partners, Reform and the Social Democrats (SDE), reiterated at the time earlier public statements, that they would like to analyze the issue further.
Järvan maintains the partners ought to be happy with his proposal.
Given the short time-scale, the bill will not be voted on between the three readings as per normal practice, and any amendments will be debated, but not voted on either. It would then be voted on at the last stage, doubling up as a vote of confidence in the Reform/Isamaa/SDE coalition.
Should the confidence vote in the government, which has 54 seats at the 101-seat Riigkogu, fail, the government would in fact have to step down, ahead of the March 5 election.
The XIV Riigikogu's last sitting is on Thursday, February 24. Advance voting for the election to the XV Riigikogu starts the following Monday.
The universal electricity service is set to run to April 2026 and is not in place only for this winter heating season (traditionally the start of October to the end of March).
Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi